Summertime

It’s summertime!! Things have been heating up around our homestead lately. (Har har) It’s a beautiful (rainy) day today, so I figured I’d put down my gardening gloves and my Zane Grey book so I could post a homestead update.

Rabbits – Poly (our Californian doe) had 8 kits that all ended up dying. I think they had a genetic issue. We decided to cull all of our rabbits. The boy had white raised lesions on his liver. We’re pretty sure he had some form of cancer. We are NOT eating him. All of the girls ended up in our freezer. The hides are currently salt drying on top of the dog house so I can egg tan them. We will get more breeding stock in the future, but I have to take a break from rabbits.

Chickens – We still have all 23 hens and 1 rooster. One of our hens went broody. She was doing a great job of sitting on a clutch of eggs, but two days before they were set to hatch, she decided to switch nests. So, we currently have no baby chicks. That will change next week. I ordered 25 day old chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery. I specifically ordered a Brown Egg Layer mix, so I’m excited to see what varieties we end up with.

Garden – The garden has exploded this past month. Everything looks lush and green. There are a ton of weeds. I have to spend about 45 minutes a day weeding, just to keep it in check. This week, with the rain, will mean that I need to spend a solid 4-5 hours in there this weekend to make it weed free again. So far, we’ve been able to harvest onions, radishes, snow peas, carrots, potatoes, and quite a few handfuls of herbs. (My Stevia plant is doing exceptionally well.) I have to put down more seeds in the areas we’ve harvested. I’m planning to do that this weekend. I have an entire 150sq feet section of beets that need to be harvested and canned this week. It’s a good project to do while it’s raining outside. I think I will work on that tomorrow and Wednesday.

Fishing – We learned that the House Pond has crawdads in it! My nephew was here with his family, and we ended up catching about 70-80 crawdads in less than 45 minutes. Needless to say, I got out my largest pot and we had a Crawfish Boil. It was delicious.

Projects – I asked the kids to come up with a project to do this summer around the property. It could be an educational project, an entertaining project, or a money making project. They decided that they are going to build a gazebo by Lost Hook Pond. They originally wanted to make a pergola, but then they decided they needed to make a solid roof so they could add a solar fan. I think it’s the perfect project for them to work on together and it will be very beneficial to us when we are out at the pond fishing.

Land – We had our hay baled. A neighbor baled it for us, took the hay, and paid us per bale. Our first cutting of the year yielded 67 large round bales. Next year, I hope to have a tractor and the needed implements so we can bale our own hay, but this arrangement worked out very well this year.

In a couple of weeks, it will have been a year since we bought this property. I still can’t believe that I get to live here. I love this place.

**I have a few pictures to add to this post, but for some reason it isn’t working correctly. I’ll try to log on later and see if I can get them to post.**

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May Flowers

We’ve been doing quite a bit of work on the homestead over the past few weeks.

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Our bees were delivered! We set them up in our hive with some sugar water and left them alone for a couple of days. When we went to check on them, we saw that the queen was dead. We put a few feelers out there and found someone that had a spare queen that only lived 2.5 hours away from us. It was a bit of a drive, but we knew if we didn’t requeen the hive ASAP all of our bees would die. It’s been 2 weeks since we picked up the new queen, and everything seems like it’s going great. We’re going to check on them again in late May.

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The garden is coming along. It’s very hard to tell in this picture, but there are some things starting to pop up. Our potato plants all look great. We’ve also got two sections of salad greens that should be making their way onto our dinner plates within the next couple of weeks. I’m going to put our tomato plants in the ground tomorrow. I’m also going to put our second batch of succession carrots in the ground. We spent about $250 on seeds, so I’ll be very happy if we can get at least 250lbs of produce.

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The chickens are laying an average of 19 eggs a day. We currently have 14 dozen eggs in the fridge. We still have 23 hens and 1 rooster. We’re going to get chicks at some point this year. I don’t want to raise them inside, so I’m trying to trick a hen into going broody. I haven’t been successful yet.

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When we end up with too many eggs, we just start letting the word out that we have extra for sale, and we almost always sell them all within a day. People love fresh, free range, happy chicken eggs. I always have to put a dozen back for me so I can make homemade egg noodles. Here’s a test batch of spaghetti drying.

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This test batch of spaghetti was delicious. We used a recipe that I found in my grandma’s recipe box.

I saw one of the craziest things for sale at Atwoods a couple of weeks ago.

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It’s two half pint mason jars taped together. The mason jars had holes in the lid. They were labeled “Redneck Salt and Pepper Shakers.” It was highly amusing to me, since they were right next to a box full of mason jars that were $1 each.

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Since we’ve been spending so much time outside, we’ve been able to enjoy the gorgeous surprise irises that decided to pop up by our gate.

I’ll try to be better about posting more often. Our internet here is mediocre at best, so I have to try to download pictures one at a time throughout the week. The internet company is going to be replacing our tower soon, so hopefully I will be able to post more regularly after that.

Happy Homesteading!

Springing

It’s been a month since I posted an update, and I’m honestly not sure where to start.

Family life – My son (15 years old) with the torn ACL has surgery on Friday to reconstruct it. I’m going to be very glad to be on the other side of surgery so we can start working on recovery. He also starts Driver’s Ed next week (with his twin brother). I’m not ready to have twin teen drivers in the house. I’m scared to see what my insurance will jump to once they get their licenses.

Pet life – Samson, our Great Pyrenees, was neutered last week. We also adopted an indoor kitty, Bella. Bella had been in the shelter for 6 weeks before she picked us. The first night here, she killed two mice. She is already worth her weight in gold. She going to get spayed next week.

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Garden Life – We fenced our garden. I planted seeds in half of it so far, but a few days after I planted seeds, we ended up with 1.5″ of rain and I’m afraid that my seeds might have rotted. I’m going to replant everything this weekend if I don’t see more things popping up. We are cheating a little. We haven’t been able to property work the soil, so after we plant seeds, we are covering the seeds with compost. We are also spraying a compost tea once a week. I hope that it helps our yields this first year.

The orchard is doing well, all of the trees we planted last fall have new growth on them. We also planted 10 grape vines and 12 berry bushes. I have plenty of room to plant more, but that should get us started.

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Livestock Life – We lost a chicken. I went out in the morning to do our animal chores and it was just.. dead. That brings our chicken count down to 23 hens and 1 rooster. When Samson was getting neutered, we had a feral dog try to attack a hen. The rooster step in front of the hen, and the dog got the rooster. The Rooster lived, but he is now missing all of his tail feathers. The cat thinks they make great kitty toys.

We still haven’t had any baby rabbits this year. I’m giving our buck two more months, but we might have to replace him. I really want the rabbits to work out. Not only do they grow fast and eat very little, but they also provide excellent meat and soft pelts.

We ordered our package bees and they should be here in two weeks. Dh wants to take over the beekeeping. He picked a spot for the hives on the other side of the property. (The bees are going to be more than 1/4 of a mile from the house.) It’s nice and shady there, and they will have great access to water.

My composting worms all died. It got too cold for them this winter. I’m on the fence about ordering more.

Kitchen Life – We are getting 14-18 eggs a day. I wish I could say that was plenty and we have a kitchen full of eggs, but fresh eggs are an item that always seems to have demand exceed supply. I’m going to have to start hoarding them so I can make and freeze egg noodles to have when production drops back down.

I bought 125lbs of tomatoes and turned them into 92 pints of Salsa. Last time I made this much salsa, it lasted us about 4 months. I hope it lasts until we can start canning our own tomatoes.

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Homesteading Life – The kids went through their closets and brought out all of the clothes that are too small. I took out all of the holy jeans and I’m using them to make a scrap rag quilt. It’s my first quilting project, so I’m antsy to get it finished. I love it so far. It’s nice and warm. I’m backing it with a worn out flannel sheet.

My Hubby ended up hiring a guy with a backhoe to dig out the space we are using for a storm shelter/root cellar. After the backhoe made it down about 10 feet, it ended up hitting something that made the hole fill with water. We’ve since figured out that it was a large trash pile that had filled with rainwater run off. Craziness. Apparently, at some point, someone dug a giant hole and buried a small house here. There are layers of wood and metal about 8 feet under the earth. Out of 71 acres, what are the odds that that we pick that exact spot to dig a hole? I wish I knew more about the history of this property.

We’ve been doing some projects with all of the fill dirt that we have. Some of it is going to bulk up our shooting/archery range. We are using some of it for grading around the house. I’d also like to use some of it to create a cobb oven and cobb seating area.

Too many projects and not enough time.

Almost Spring

I’m sitting here, warm and toasty in my house. The sound of thunder and the howling wind are in the background. The teakettle is on the stove, warming water to use with my homemade hot cocoa mix. Life is good.

We’ve been busy around our homestead. I’ve been neglectful of this blog. I finally realized why there are so many blogs that tell the story of a family’s journey towards homesteading, that stop soon after the family finally started making real progress. It used to frustrated me to no end. Now I find myself on the other side of that spectrum. We’ve just been really, really busy.

Here’s a quick recap of the month of February.

We brought home Samson. Samson is an incredible addition to our homestead. He is 7 months old and already weighs 70lbs. He is a Great Pyrenees and he is just beautiful. He is loyal, obedient, and fiercly protective of us. He lives outside and he protects the area around the house, barn, and coop from Coyotes, Stray Dogs, Hawks, Wolves, Snakes, Rabbits, Strangers, Skunks, and anything else he percieves as a threat.

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We tilled the garden for Spring! My neighbor came over and tilled it for us. (I love our neighbors. They are so sweet and helpful.) He asked if we wanted it the same size or a little bigger. Of course, I said “a little bigger.” I was very happy with the size until I measured it. That sucker is 90×50. It’s 4500 square feet. That’s about 1/10th of an acre. I have a feeling I’m going to be spending many hours weeding.

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We started working on the beginning to our storm shelter/root cellar. It’s going to take awhile, but it will be wonderful once it’s finished. There will be three rooms. One for storage, one for a root cellar, and one with some cots and equipment for a storm shelter. We’ve done all that we can with the front loader, so now we need to pay someone with a backhoe that can dig out the rest of the hole. It’s going to be about 12′ deep.

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Many people in our area are dealing with the (hopefully) last winter storm of the year. It’s snowing outside. Two years ago, I was able to plant my garden in January! This year, I think I’ll have to wait until at least March 14th. What a strange winter. Yesterday it was 80F outside. I walked over past the 10 new grapevines and the 12 new berry bushes to our 14 fruit trees. This little bloom was greeting me on an apple tree….

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I know it’s not going to make it – but it’s nice to have confirmation that spring really is just around the corner.

We ordered our bees in late January. The equipment showed up already and I’m very happy with it. The bees should be shipping in a little over a month. I hope we end up with a little honey this year.

As for the chickens – before we got Samson, we lost one hen to a chicken hawk. It was fairly traumatic. It took me a week before I would let them out of the coop to free range again. I’m getting about 16-18 eggs a day. We’ve been selling and trading the extra to our neighbors. Extra eggs for grass fed beef? Yes, please.

My younger twin (15 years old) tore his ACL playing catch with the football a week and a half ago. He has to have prehab and then a surgery, then months of rehab. It’s going to take 6-12 months before he is fully recovered. He is having a hard time dealing with it, since he is usually so active. He loves running the property line with the dog and he’s just not going to be able to do it for a long time. I’m trying to be encouraging to him, but it’s hard. He wants to be outside working. I think I’m going to have him start helping me in the kitchen. It would give him something to do and help him feel useful around the homestead. I’m not sure what else I can do to keep his spirits up during his long recovery – any ideas?

Rainwater Catchment System

Our area of Texas is in it’s third year of a bad drought. One of our ponds is nearly dry, and the other two are noticeably smaller than they were when we first saw them. It’s not pretty. We try to conserve as much water as possible. One of the first homestead projects that we’ve done is set up a rainwater catchment system.

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We were lucky, our barn already had gutters set up. All we had to add was a large bendable pipe (we used sewage pipe) that we picked up at Home Depot. It ended up using $6 worth of pipe and another $3 worth of connectors.

Our local Farm Supply company sells 275 gallon totes for $180 + tax. I hate buying things for full price, so we started checking craigslist daily, hoping we could find a great deal.

About two weeks ago, we were driving into town and saw a house that had two 275 gallon water totes sitting outside with a phone number on them. We called, and ended up buying both of these totes for $50 each. We cleaned them and sterilized them very well, just to be safe. We put them on pallets, so when we use the water, gravity will create water pressure for us.

Eventually, we will connect the two totes, so we don’t have to go out and manually move the pipe from one to the other in the rain. But, for now – it’s a blessing to be able to use rain water to water the garden. The plants love it.

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P.S. Please ignore the weeds and grass in the garden.

P.P.S. We ended up spending $110 on this project. After we fill up both totes 14 times, we will have recouped our investment. This number only accounts for the cash cost of water in our area, not the cost of taxes, meter fees, and the environmental cost of using city water when we could be using rain water. This was definitely a project that was worth doing.

We are home

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Have I mentioned that I love this place? There is so much to catch up on, that I’m not sure where to begin. I guess I’ll do a quick recap of the last few weeks, then I can go into more detail later.

We have wonderful neighbors. They came over and tilled our garden for us! The garden is much bigger than our last garden. If I had to guess, I would say it is about 1500 – 2000 square feet. The barn in the picture is 3000 square feet, so that should give you an idea of how big the garden area is. We put the garden next to the barn, so we could have easy access to water, once we set up our water catchment system. If you look at the left hand side of the barn, you can see that we started implementing our water catchment, we just need to find a water barrel or tote that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg (at the feed store, they are $180 for 275 gallons, yikes!).

I planted a ton of things, lots of herbs, spinach, kale, swiss chard, lettuce, carrots, onions, strawberries, collard greens, and everything else I had seeds for. I used all of the Spring/Fall seeds that I had. Every single one of them. And I still have 1 row that’s completely empty. How do you like the flour I used to mark my rows?  I couldn’t find the string and nails I usually use, so I had to improvise. I think it worked out rather well.

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The neighbors are older than my parents, and it’s hard for them to plant their garden, so after they tilled our garden with their tractor, I offered our knees and backs and volunteered to plant all of their seeds in their fall garden. It took the kids and I about 2.5 hours to plant their seeds. It was SO worth it. We were treated with homemade ice cream and stories about what this place looked like before we moved in. It’s nice to feel like our neighbors are also going to be great friends. It’s also nice to know that we have other people living out here that are looking out for us and rooting for us.

We planted six fruit trees. Two red delicious apple, two yellow delicious apple, and two Bartlett pears. The red and yellow delicious will pollinate each other. We had to buy two 150′ water hoses in order to keep them watered. We spent about two days trying to tote water to them before we decided that the hoses would be a good investment. Right now, there is a trash bag with holes poked at the bottom, filled with water and attached to each tree. The 4 year old and I spend about 15 minutes each morning filling up the trash bags with water and they slow release all day long. It’s hard to tell in the picture, but the trees are all 25′ apart from each other. Eventually, I’d like an entire fruit tree orchard. I’ll be very happy if we can plant another 6 trees this fall, then 12 more in the spring. We’ll see how that goes. I’m sorry for the cruddy picture, I’ll get some better ones at some point.

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I found some free goats on Craigslist, and DH and the teens went to round them up and bring them home.  They are very skittish around people. One of them went into our freezer. The other three are starting to become friendlier. We now have a 2 year old nanny, and a 7 month old (unrelated) buckling and doeling. Yes, we are crazy and brought them home tied up in the bed of DH’s truck. Luckily, we didn’t have to drive very far with them like this.

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The main problem with free goats is that we were not prepared for them at all. We have a metal barn, and a cattle pen that is meant for loading and unloading cattle. We adapted what we had to what we needed by using things we found. We had 42 pallets and we used metal hangers to tie them around our cattle pen. It’s pretty ugly, but it works for now.

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Here are the goaties trying to figure out how to escape. Uh, I mean, enjoying their new home.

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This is the friendly one of the bunch. She is a sweetie.

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We got our barn cats last weekend, they have to spend two weeks in a holding cell before we can let them wander around. Their names are Marla and Monty and they were found wandering around Moore, OK after the tornado that devastated the town back in May. They seem to be very timid and fearful. I’m bribing them with cat treats and canned food. I hope they decide to stick around once they are released. I don’t have a picture of them yet, they keep hiding whenever they hear the click of my camera. Silly kitties. I’m getting another batch of water kefir and another batch of composting worms next week. We should also have a litter of rabbits next Wednesday. There is always more to do, we just have to pace ourselves so we don’t get overwhelmed. My farm chores take about 30 minutes a day right now, once the garden starts growing, it will increase by an hour or two each day. It’s manageable right now, but I could see how it could easily get out of control. It really is worth it though – we are home!

 

Lazy Day

Today is a lazy day. We don’t get many lazy days around here, so I’m taking advantage of it. I’ve been packing, cleaning, and listening to this free permaculture design pod class.

I’ve listened to half of the “lessons” so far. There are some great ideas in it. There are some things that I don’t agree with, but even the things I don’t agree with are still thought provoking. If you are interested in permaculture, it’s worth a listen.

I got some yummies from the garden yesterday. Look at all this loot!  I harvested all of this around 2pm and it was all gone before we went to bed. Carrots from the backyard are so much better than carrots from the store. They taste carroty and delicious. (No one asked for ranch dressing to dip them in!)

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Not wanting anything to go to waste, we shared the carrot greens with the rabbits and the compost worms. These are the babies that were born on April 14th. I think we have 4 girls and 2 boys this time, but I’ll double check them sometime this week to be sure. (The seventh one died a week after birth. The mom stepped on his head when he was born and he never recovered.)

When rabbits are very young, I sex them by looking at how far apart their “parts” are from their anus. Girl parts are right next to the anus, and boy parts are a fraction of a tiny bit further away. When they get older, you can press on the area outside of the vent, and the sex becomes very obvious –  it looks like boys have straws and girls have oval slits.

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We signed, sealed, and delivered our third offer on property today. The first two properties we liked didn’t pan out; so I’m not going to get excited about this one yet. I am hopeful though. This is in the town and school district I want, it has the acreage DH wants, it’s peaceful, it has great soil, and it’s got a price tag we can afford. If everything works out, this could be my backyard in a few months.

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We should find out more within the next few days. Until then, I’m going to avoid thinking about it and try to make the most of the last lazy day we will have in this house.